Kirkland council opposes proposed motor fee tax measure

The Kirkland City Council has voted 5-1 to approve Resolution 5389, which opposes Initiative 976.

The measure would repeal governmental ability to impose taxes and fees on certain motor vehicles.

Council had asked city staff on Sept. 17 to bring back a resolution draft opposing the ballot measure to the Oct. 1 meeting, during which councilmembers voted on the resolution. The initiative will be voted on by the public in November’s general election.

As stated in the ballot measure summary, the initiative would limit annual license fees to $30 for motor vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less, unless different charges are approved by voters.

It would also, according to the summary, “repeal or remove authority to impose certain taxes and charges, including additional vehicle excise taxes funding regional transportation; calculate vehicle taxes based on Kelley Blue Book values; require regional transit authorities to retire bonds early when allowed; and repeal motor vehicle excise taxes pledged to regional transit authority bonds once they are tired.”

As it currently stands, the base annual license fee starts at $30 and generally maxes out at $93 for the majority of passenger vehicles. Fees are added if a vehicle has excess weight, usually between $25 and $65. Currently, the funds collected from the payments go toward road and highway repairs and other state transportation needs.

The measure would lower funding for state and local transportation projects. If passed, the initiative would result in a loss of about $1.92 billion in revenue over six years. Local governments over the same period would lose about $2.3 billion in revenue, with implementation costs of the measure potentially being $2.8 million in the 2019-21 biennium.

In Kirkland, the initiative has the potential to either directly or indirectly stymie the progress of 18 local programs and projects, including three Safe Routes to School programs and several components of the bicycle/pedestrian program. Regionally, project investments by Sound Transit and King County Metro would be in financial jeopardy as a result of the funds currently being culled from in-place laws being decreased.

Authorities that have issued bonds financed by motor vehicle excise taxes — such as regional transit jurisdictions like Sound Transit — would have to refinance, defease or retire the bonds in question prematurely if contracts permit if the initiative were to pass.

A public hearing was held as part of the resolution’s discussion at the Oct. 1 meeting. Tim Eyman, who is behind the initiative and has initiated similar ballot measures in the past, spoke in support of the proposal.

“It’s simply not fair for the government to triple tax you…I believe the initiative is going to pass by a huge margin,” he said.

Eyman filed for the initiative to be considered by the Washington state legislature for this year’s legislative session. The legislature took no action on the initiative at the time. If passed, the new law could not be amended for two years, with the exception of a two-thirds supermajority legislative vote.

Eyman was recently involved in a controversy. On Oct. 1, the Seattle Times reported that a for-profit signature-gathering firm working with Eyman had deceived its donors by channeling campaign money to the latter for his personal use. The Thurston County Superior Court ruled that Eyman had worked with the firm to cover this up. The court ruled on Sept. 30 that the firm and its principal pay upward of $1 million in response.

Andrew Villeneuve, a cybersecurity strategist, facilitator and nonprofit leader, spoke on behalf of the Northwest Progressive Institute and Keep Washington Rolling in opposition to the initiative at the meeting. He discussed the detrimental funding impacts on east King County if the initiative were passed. He noted in his presentation that $4 billion, which would go toward highway safety improvements, Washington state patrol, ferry upgrades, freight mobility projects, Amtrak Cascades services and other transportation services, would be at risk.

“These transportation projects support a significant number of good-paying, family-wage jobs, which is why the Washington State Labor Council, the laborers, the building and construction trades and other unions fiercely oppose this measure,” Villeneuve said. “There is nothing fair about letting somebody who owns a Ferrari or a Lamborghini pay the same amount as someone who owns a Corolla or a Civic to renew their vehicle registration every year.”

Aside from councilmember Toby Nixon — who said that the council “should not take a collective position” on initiatives or ballot measures not put forth for the city itself — each member on the Kirkland council voted in opposition to I-976.

Councilmember Jon Pascal brought up that, if the initiative were to pass, it would have significant impacts on the city’s ability to invest in its transportation system.

“It’s my opinion that I-976 would set our state and region back four years,” he said.

Mayor Penny Sweet said that she was “wholeheartedly” in support of the resolution to oppose the initiative.

“Stepping backward again is simply not the answer,” she said. “I believe we’re moving in the right direction.”

For more information about the resolution, go to the most recent council meeting agenda.

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